Monograph by a master of Norway’s national instrument

Photo: ECM

Nils Økland, from Haugesund is a renowned master of Norway’s national instrument the Hardanger fiddle. However, his musical outlook is far wider than just traditional music and his contributions diverse.

Both as an instrumentalist and as a composer he interlaces elements of classical and contemporary music as well as jazz with traditional Norwegian expressions, finding common traits and not least common expressive mindsets across genres and time periods. Økland belongs to the category of musicians who have come to represent an individual sound and a musical sensibility that is completely their own.

And so it is no surprise perhaps that his first solo record is released by the legendary ECM label which specializes in finding unique musical voices and distinct sounds. Økland has released records in his own name before, but Monograph is his first solo record in the true meaning of the word. It features him alone playing his own compositions in the ancient Avaldsnes church of his native south western Norway. It is also in these parts, in the countryside around his cottage, that much of Økland’s music is conceived, or downloaded, as he puts it. The act of walking plays a part too.

“I think there is something about the rhythm of walking that inspires me,” says Økland, “or perhaps I should say tunes me in, because I find that many times my creative work takes the form of downloading. I don’t sit down to write music, I can’t do that. I need to be calm and experience tranquillity, perhaps even boredom, before music comes to me. It is quite mysterious, but on the other hand I guess it is something many artists can testify to”.

St. Olavs Church at Avaldsnes. Photo by Geir Akselsen.

St. Olavs Church at Avaldsnes. Photo by Geir Akselsen.

When it comes to playing, Økland is inspired by context and the actual room he finds himself in. A sought-after performer who spreads his musical activity across a variety of projects and genres he plays all kinds of venues; from small clubs, to concert halls and not least churches. The old church in Avaldsnes made an impact on his playing he relates; it was just the locale that Økland and his long-time producer and collaborator Audun Strype had been looking for.

“The church has a special timbre, low and a little shadowy perhaps. It is a weighty kind of building, not heavy, but solid and insulated. Audun set up the microphones very close to the instruments, which means that the distinct timbre of the room becomes a backdrop; like a presence withdrawn,” says Økland.

When it comes to playing, Økland is inspired by context and the actual room he finds himself in. A sought-after performer who spreads his musical activity across a variety of projects and genres he plays all kinds of venues; from small clubs, to concert halls and not least churches. The old church in Avaldsnes made an impact on his playing he relates; it was just the locale that Økland and his long-time producer and collaborator Audun Strype had been looking for.

The music on Monograph is closely linked to the timbres of the instruments and the room as well as the organic sounds of the actual playing: the motions of the bow and of the fingers over the strings, breathing and even stomping. Critics have called it a master instrumentalist’s playful capturing of the moment and that it is an exploration of the interchange between tradition and novel spheres of tone and timbre. On Monograph contemporary music, classical allusions, improvisation and tradition are lifted into a subtle higher unity that seems natural, yet at the same time appears like uncharted musical territory. As Økland says himself, the music is like a conversation he is having with himself; a dialogue of questions and answers. 

Read more on: Mic.no

You may also like...